2202 Inwood Road
Dude Factor: 9, or Nolan Ryan, on a scale of 1 ("Tom Hicks") to 10 ("Tom Landry")
Sure, Sonny Bryan's is a Dallas institution, but I can't say I ever darkened the original's door until the Observer moved to our current offices at Maple and Oak Lawn some four years ago. (In fact, I'm pretty sure the only times I found myself on Inwood during my first quarter century were when I was on my way to catch the Shamu plane to Sea World.)
Since my first fateful Sonny Bryan's experience, I've been back as often as my co-workers' tastes and dietary restrictions allow, though there are many other variables to also consider when visiting this Dallas barbecue mainstay.
First off, how's the weather? If it's rainy, cold, windy or brutally hot, you'll have to take your BBQ to go or plant your ass in one of the '50s-style elementary school desks inside--it doesn't matter if you've got a three-meat plate and a goblet of beer in front of you, if you're sitting in one of those little desks, you kinda look like a jackass.
One also has to consider one's drive to actually get work done after a successful BBQ lunch. After all, if it's truly successful, the only thing you'll be getting through that day is a nap and a half pack of Tums.
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SHOW ME HOW
That being said, the food at Sonny Bryan's is generally worth the indignities you'll suffer there, whether it's sitting in a school desk or being left to the mercy of Dallas' most aggressive pigeons in the parking lot. Suffer them enough, though, and you'll eventually succumb to their charms.
For instance, as my compadres and I enjoyed brisket sandwiches in the parking lot one recent afternoon, we felt the instincts of our caveman ancestors kick in as we fought off the aggressive resident fowl, guarding one another's food as we ran inside for condiments and frightening the air rats with aggressive hooting and stomping displays--which is to say, we felt like men.
Plus, resident "Baron of Beef" Dave Rummel is a stand-up guy, passionate local music fan and Dude Food idol. If you're ever sitting outside and hear something more suited to a Good Records listening station than your average BBQ joint, he's probably responsible. Smelling of hickory smoke, serving up meat and listening to sweet tunes all day? Sounds like the good life to us.
As for the meat, it's obviously beloved for a reason. The brisket is still some of the best in town, the pulled pork a personal favorite. The onion rings, crispy and huge, even upstage the meat at times, while the sauce finds a nice balance between sweetness and spice. The fries...okay, the fries are just okay, pretty much only good for mopping up the sauce.
Sonny Bryan's isn't the best BBQ in Texas by any means. It might not even be the best in North Texas. But it's consistently good, a smoke-stained reflection of the city it sprung from, slightly flawed but nevertheless enjoyable. To paraphrase Springsteen, it ain't a beauty but hey, it's alright. And that's alright with me, y'all.